Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?

Dale Campbell: Co-Editor

In the article, the author, Rachel Bachman, sites several items that made me stop and think.  For example, Ms Bachman notes the following:  “All-ages helmet laws might actually make cycling more dangerous, some cyclists say, by decreasing ridership.  Research shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the fewer crashes there are.  Academics theorize that as drivers become used to seeing bikes on a street, they watch more closely for them.”
Following up on this, Ms. Bachman further noted “… a paper in the British Medical Journal that showed no noticeable drop in head injuries after enforcement of helmet laws in parts of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but drops in cycling of between 20% and 44%.  The study focused on the years leading up to and after the laws were passed.”
Humm, imposed helmet laws led to drops in the number of cyclists?  Now that puts an interesting perspective on the discussion.   The article did include a comment from the Communications Coordinator for the Washington (D.C.) Areas Bicyclist Association (WABA), in which Colin Browne noted “I wear a helmet every day.  Everyone in our office wears a helmet every day.  But as a public policy, it’s not a good idea [mandatory helmet laws].  It just limits the ease and accessibility of bicycling.”  Note that the article does reference the continuing expansion of bike share programs, such as the ones in New York City and the Washington, D.C. area and the recently implemented B-cycle system in Denver.
Considering the other side of the debate, studies have shown that wearing helmets does reduce the risk of head injuries.  An analysis of a decade of data, as published in the Journal of Pediatrics, “concliuded that bicycle-related death rates were about 20% lower among children in states with helmet laws.”  Note that there are 21 states and the District of Columbia, that require bike helmet use by young people.  Young people are typically defined as under 16 years of age.
It’s interesting to note that cyclists are less that 1% of all US commuters.  But, studies have shown that the number of commuters on bicycles is growing.  And this is reflected in the growth of the bike share programs.  Review of data from 10 bike share cities in the US and in London, England revealed that in 14,000,000 treips, only 200 crashes have been reported.  This is according to the North American Bikeshare Association.  As another example, New York City’s Citi Bike  program, with 7,400 bikes, reports more than 22,000,000 trips since its launch in 2013, without any reported deaths.
Interestingly enough, the author did conclude the article by stating “One way to make cycling safer, many advocates say, is to create more biker-specific lanes and pathways – to decrease the chance of crashes in the first place.”  Seems like that’s the direction Colorado Springs and the State of Colorado are taking at this time.  I believe that this is where a majority of us agree with the direction things are going.
What do you think?  Would helmet-laws cause more harm than good?  Let me know your thoughts on this topic.
Bent Fork - Volume 8 Issue 6

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